Creed III

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner/MGM;
Drama;
Box Office $156.25 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sports action, violence, and some strong language.
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Mila Davis-Kent, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad.

The first two “Creed” films featured the title character dealing with personal issues stemming from earlier “Rocky” movies. For the third installment, the spinoff series jettisons Rocky for Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) to deal with some personal demons from his own past.

The premise involves Creed retiring from boxing and setting up his own gym, where he now manages the current boxing champ, Felix Chavez (played by real boxer José Benavidez Jr.). From out of the blue he is confronted by his old pal Damian (Jonathan Majors), who has been in prison for 18 years for an incident in which he pulled a gun on some thugs who were beating up on the younger Donnie. Dame was locked up just as he was about to embark on a promising boxing career, so he asks Donnie to get him back into the game.

Donnie sets Dame up at his gym as a sparring partner to Felix, but Dame’s latent anger gives him a violent streak that makes the rest of Felix’s entourage uneasy. When an upcoming title bout is derailed by an injury to Felix’s scheduled opponent, Donnie suggests Dame take his place, which Felix reluctantly accepts on the promise of a big payday.

Needless to say, the fight does not go well, and Dame not only seizes upon the opportunity to claim the title but turns out to have a massive grudge against Donnie as well. In typical “Rocky” fashion, the only recourse for both men ends up being a climactic title fight.

Rocky’s current in-universe status isn’t mentioned, Sylvester Stallone’s absence is felt, though he did seem to make a definitive exit in Creed II. While this is the first “Rocky” movie without Rocky in it, it still leans into many of the franchise’s tropes, beginning with a reference to Rocky’s underdog status from the first film being the justification for Dame getting a title shot out of nowhere. The story, as is usually the case with the “Rocky” franchise, mostly uses the boxing plot as a backdrop for familial relationships, particularly Adonis’ relationship with his adorable daughter.

And, much in the same way Stallone directed many of the original “Rocky” movies, Jordan takes the helm behind-the-scenes for this particular sequel.

Though it’s a boxing movie on its surface, the character dynamics are more typically found in a pro wrestling storyline, taking some narrative shortcuts to steer the characters toward settling all their personal animosities in the ring.

Looking past the connective tissue, however, the film is at its best when Creed is with his family, and during some good boxing scenes that seem especially brutal for the franchise.

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The Blu-ray includes a light smattering of bonus materials that glimpses behind the scenes of making this particular sequel without delving too much into the franchise’s legacy behind it — which may echo some of the public disagreements between Stallone, who is contractually listed as a producer, and other producers who control the rights to the franchise.

The 10-minute “Michael B. Jordan: In the Ring/Behind the Camera” focuses on the actor making his directorial debut, while the nine-minute “There’s No Enemy Like the Past: Donnie and Dame” explores the relationship between the two former friends turned rivals.

Rounding out the extras are three superfluous deleted scenes that run a total of four-and-a-half-minutes. Frankly, there seems to be more substantial unused material in the film’s trailers.

In regards to the 4K edition, the extras are found only on the regular Blu-ray Disc in the combo pack.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/16/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $213.75 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence/action, and language.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Kathryn Newton, David Dastmalchian, Katy O’Brian, William Jackson Harper, Bill Murray.

With the conclusion of the “Infinity Saga” in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe found itself in the unenviable position of having to crawl out from the shadow of the massively successful story arc that dominated its first decade of existence.

For the most part, the films and TV shows following Endgame were standalone adventures, wrapping up loose ends from established characters, or introducing new concepts and characters to the MCU without a clear path as to what the franchise as a whole would be building toward for its next major crossover event.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, while completing a trilogy for the “Ant-Man” sub-franchise of the MCU, was also touted as the first big stepping stone to setting up the next major story arc with the arrival of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), a variant of whom was previously seen on the “Loki” TV series.

Kang, whose various iterations from throughout the multiverse seek dominion over all possible timelines, has already been announced as the next major Avengers villain for the upcoming films Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, so establishing him in Quantumania, the 31st MCU movie, was seen as being of vital importance to future storylines of the MCU.

The prospect of such developments would also serve to elevate the importance of the “Ant-Man” movies, where before the character was something of a mid-level player in the MCU. But it also made sense given Ant-Man’s connection to the Quantum Realm, which was previously established to have a role in the MCU’s version of time travel and alternate realities.

With Peyton Reed returning for his third stint as an “Ant-Man” director, the MCU’s choice to write the screenplay was Jeff Loveness, who previously was best known for “Rick and Morty,” a cartoon comedy. And the results are a bit clunky.

While it’s fun to check in again Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka the Ant-Man and The Wasp of the title, and their Ant-Man family — Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as Hope’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, the Ant-Man and The Wasp of the previous generation — the arrival of Kang gives the film a much darker tone than the light-hearted heist-movie sensibilities of the first two. The film is missing Michael Peña and the rest of Scott’s X-Con pals, who were a great source of comic relief from the first two movies. Instead, the film has to make due with some superfluous new characters mined from the depths of the Quantum Realm, where the main characters are transported following some misguided experiments.

The film also continues the MCU’s youth movement, with Scott’s now-teenaged daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) becoming yet another hero with a Pym-particle-powered shrinking suit.

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Zipping Scott, Hope, Hank, Janet and Cassie through a portal of visual effects to the Quantum Realm, a fantastical civilization that exists as a hidden layer beneath our own, makes the set-up seem a bit like Tron, though with a world of biological weirdness substituting for the digital frontier.

The premise puts more focus on Janet, who was rescued from the Quantum Realm in 2018’s Ant-Man and The Wasp after three decades of being trapped there, thus making her privy to all its secrets. Her outsized contribution to the story provides credence to the argument that she might be considered The Wasp of the title. The film’s prologue reveals how Janet, just before her rescue, came across a Kang newly exiled into the Quantum Realm, and destroyed his only means of escape. Kang subsequently set up an empire to conquer the Quantum Realm, with Janet joining a resistance movement to his rule.

Thus, Janet and her family join the rebellion against Kang, who is now being assisted by MODOK, a killing machine inhabited by the broken body of Hank’s former protégé and rival, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who was seemingly dispatched to microscopic oblivion by Scott in the first “Ant-Man.”

The visual effects, though colorful and flashy, are omnipresent and a bit overwhelming, while the superimposed face of Stoll onto MODOK’s giant head is just bizarre. The fact that there are so many creatures that live in the Quantum Realm, and so many who look human, just raises questions about what exactly it is, as it seems much more like an alien world than its previous depictions of a sub-atomic netherworld. Humans transported there can now breathe and act relatively normally, though there are at least still mentions of strange phenomena such as a “probability storm” that allows Scott to team up with different versions of himself who exist only as a facet of his potential actions — one of the film’s better sequences.

On the other hand, given that the Pym suits can still shrink and grow relative to what’s considered a “normal” size, it raises the question of if the Quantum Realm actually represents a sub-atomic layer of our world (in which all the characters would already be miniscule), or it’s just another alternate dimension. At one point Scott and Cassie use their suits to become giant versions of themselves, but the abundance of alien-world visual effects around them make it hard to get any sense of scale of how “big” they’re supposed to be.

The setting offers almost no boundaries for the story, aside from the audience’s awareness of the characters, and the performances are all top notch. Rudd is effortlessly likable as Scott Lang, Pfeiffer is commanding as Janet, and Majors is a compelling menace as Kang.

However, a lot of the discussion over the film’s underperformance both critically and financially will likely focus on Loveness’ experience as a screenwriter. This is his first movie, and the fact that he’s already lined up to pen the next “Avengers” films isn’t settling anyone’s doubts about the future of the MCU.

Granted, the studio previously turned over the “Infinity Saga” to a pair of TV comedy writers — the Russo Brothers — and the results paid off, so time will tell. But their first efforts in the MCU, a pair of “Captain America” movies, were far more effective entries in the canon than Quantumania.

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Reed and Loveness provide a feature-length commentary on the Blu-ray and digital editions of the film in which they discuss the storytelling process, and hearing their thought processes of connecting various elements from throughout the “Ant-Man” trilogy should better contextualize the film for a few viewers.

The commentary is the highlight of an extras package that is otherwise rather paltry for a Marvel movie. There are just two behind-the-scenes featurettes: the seven-and-a-half-minute “All in the Family” about the heroic characters of the film, and the 11-and-a-half-minute “Formidable Foes,” about the films’ bad guys.

Also included among the extras are a two-minute gag reel, plus two superfluous deleted scenes running a total of three minutes, with unfinished visual effects.

 

Devotion

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
Box Office $20.51 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $35.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking.
Stars Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Christina Jackson, Thomas Sadoski, Daren Kagasoff, Joe Jonas, Spencer Neville, Nick Hargrove, Boone Platt, Dean Denton, Thad Luckinbill, Serinda Swan.

The story of Jesse Brown, one of the U.S. Navy’s first black aviators, is told in Devotion, a film that could almost pass for a 1950s version of Top Gun were it not based on actual events with some tragic overtones.

Jonathan Majors stars as Brown, the first African-American aviator to finish the Navy’s basic flight training program and the first black naval officer killed in the Korean War.

The film begins with Brown’s time training with his squadron in Rhode Island, where he meets fellow pilot Lt. Tom Hudner, played by Glen Powell. They are assigned as each others’ wingmen, sparking what would become a brief but strong friendship.

The fact that Powell appears as a pilot here in such proximity to his role as an aviator in Top Gun: Maverick is one source of the film’s proto-Top Gun vibes; the other is that Devotion used Top Gun: Maverick’s stunt coordinator to create fantastic aerial footage using vintage fighter planes such as the F4U Corsair, with the actors filmed in real planes in flight, just like Top Gun: Maverick.

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The biggest chunk of the movie is their time training for potential conflict with the Soviet Union during the early days of the Cold War. Brown, who is married and raising a young daughter, must also contend with the racism of the day. Another pilot raises a comparison to Jackie Robinson, and it wouldn’t be too out of line to liken the film to an aviation version of 42.

Soon enough, the squadron is called to duty in the early days of the Korean War, where Brown’s eagerness to demonstrate his skills as a combat pilot get him into trouble on more than one occasion.

Most of the first two-thirds of the film, however, are fodder to set up the emotional stakes of Brown’s final mission, in which he is forced to crash land behind enemy lines, while Hudner tries to rescue him.

Well shot, acted and backed by a strong musical score, Devotion is both an entertaining film and a solid depiction of military history that should appease aviation enthusiasts and general audiences alike.

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The home video editions include two informative featurettes: The 11-minute “The Aviation of a Forgotten War” focuses on the making of the film and the use of real planes, while the 12-minute “The Legacy of Jesse Brown” is more of a profile of the central character and what his legacy meant to those making the film.

Boxing Drama ‘Creed III’ Looks to Deliver Weekend Box Office Knockout

A busy March box office beckons with Amazon/MGM Studios’ Creed III, the third installment in boxing drama spin-off of the “Rocky” franchise, looking to become the champ.

The film finds heavyweight champ Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) defending title and lifestyle against a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy (Jonathan Majors). In addition to headlining the movie, Jordan also directs the follow-up to 2018’s Creed II, which featured elder statesman Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) guiding Creed. That movie generated more than $214 million at the global box office. The threequel could best the sequel’s record $35.6 million North American box office opening and could generate $43 million in ticket sales through March 5, according to Box Office Pro.

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Another new weekend theatrical release, Sony Pictures/Crunchyroll’s anime release Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba — To the Swordsmith Village, follows in the successful footsteps of the 2021 box office hit Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train, which generated $453 million in worldwide ticket sales. To the Swordsmith Village is tracking an opening weekend revenue estimate of around $11 million, significantly below Mugen Train, which debuted with $21.3 million in ticket sales. The former is also expected to finished behind the third weekend of Disney/Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which should tally around $14 million.

Other weekend box office returnees include Universal Pictures’ Cocaine Bear, which is projected to generate an additional $10.3 million in ticket sales, followed by Lionsgate’s faith-based Jesus Revolution, with $9.4 million in estimated revenue.

Lionsgate is also debuting Guy Ritchie’s international comedy thriller Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, featuring Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes and Hugh Grant. Box Office Pro suggests the movie is projected to generate $4 million in ticket sales.

War Film ‘Devotion’ Due on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 28

The war film Devotion will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 28 from Paramount Home Entertainment

Jonathan Majors (Creed III) and Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick) star in the true story of two elite U.S. Navy fighter pilots who helped turn the tide in the most brutal battle in the Korean War: Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in Navy history, and his fellow fighter pilot and friend Tom Hudner. Their heroic sacrifices and enduring friendship would ultimately make them the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen.

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Bonus content on digital, 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray includes “The Aviation of a Forgotten War,” a deep dive into the world of 1950s U.S. Naval aviation and the epic aerial action brought to life in Devotion, and “The Legacy of Jesse Brown,” about the extraordinary life of Jesse Brown, the first African-American Naval Aviator.

Paramount Snags Home Entertainment, TV Rights to Three Romulus Entertainment Movies

Paramount Pictures on Sept. 8 announced that it has secured home entertainment and television licensing rights to three feature films from Romulus Entertainment.

The films will be released in select U.S. theaters by Vertical Entertainment in tandem with their release on home entertainment platforms.

“We are delighted to bring these exceptional films to audiences around the world through a combination of home entertainment platforms and television licensing,” said Dan Cohen, president of the ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group. “With top-notch casts and creative talent, these films offer gripping stories that will appeal to a wide array of viewers.”

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The three films included in the agreement are:

Dreamland, starring Margot Robbie as an outlaw bank robber during the Great Depression who becomes involved with a young man who must choose between collecting the bounty on her head or following his heart. Aside from Robbie, the film stars Finn Cole, Travis Fimmel, and Garrett Hedlund. It was directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and written by Nicolaas Zwart.

Jungleland, in which Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell play brothers trying to escape their circumstances by traveling across the country for a bare-knuckle boxing match that becomes a fight for their lives. The film, directed by Max Winkler, was co-written by Winkler, Theodore B. Bressman, and David Branson Smith. Jessica Barden also stars.

Gully is about three disaffected teens who roam the streets of Los Angeles, seeking seek revenge for all the ways the world has failed them through a series of increasingly violent crimes. The film stars Amber Heard, Jonathan Majors, John Corbett, Terrence Howard, Charlie Plummer, Robin Givens. Nabil Elderkin directed the film, which was written by Marcus J. Guillory.

The deal was negotiated by Lauren Fisher for Paramount Pictures, Brad Feinstein from Romulus Entertainment and Andrew Kramer of Loeb & Loeb.